The Sorcerer's Tale: Faith and Fraud in Tudor England

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An earl's son, plotting murder by witchcraft; conjuring spirits to find buried treasure; a stolen coat embroidered with pure silver; crooked gaming-houses and brothels; a terrifying new disease, and the self-trained surgeon who claims he can treat it. This is the world of Gregory Wisdom, a physician, magician, and consummate con-man in sixteenth-century London. Drawing on previously unknown documents to reconstruct this extraordinary man's career, Alec Ryrie takes us through the cut-throat business of early modern medicine, down to Tudor London's gangland of fraud and organized crime; from the world of Renaissance magi and Kabbalistic conjurers to street-corner wizards; and into the chaotic, exhilarating religious upheavals of the Reformation. On the way, we learn how Tudor England's dignified public face and its rapacious underworld were intimately connected to each other. Gregory Wisdom's career is an object lesson in how to conjure up wealth and respectability from nothing in a turbulent age. Praised as "an excellent snapshot of a time intrigued by the spiritual realm" (Los Angeles Times), this is a unique glimpse into a world intoxicated by new ideas.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

When he came across a foolish young 16th-century aristocrat's confession of attempting to murder his wife and father by sorcery, Ryrie (church history, Durham Univ.; Britain Reformed: Religion, Politics and Society in Britain 1485-1603 ) discovered a fascinating way to introduce readers to the deeply entangled worlds of Tudor-era magic, medicine, and religion. The young man had himself been conned, and it is the story of the con man, a would-be physician and magician named Gregory Wisdom, that's at the heart of this book. Ryrie shows how Wisdom fits into the murky boundaries between medicine and fraud (he lacked university credentials) and probably met other con men frequenting Tudor England's notorious gaming houses and brothels during a time when the deadly new disease, syphilis, was increasing the demand for "medical" help. Ryrie discusses Widsom's medical schemes and how the belief in magic, whether the esoteric magic learned from Renaissance scholars or the more mercenary practices of small-time conjurers, was common even as successive Tudor rulers tried to control it. Ryrie's book skillfully illuminates an age when political upheaval and the turmoil of belief that accompanied the Reformation could make the magical claims of a fraud like Wisdom seem plausible. With detailed notes. Recommended for academic libraries.-Larry Milliken, Drexel Univ., Philadelphia

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199570904
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 11/30/2010
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 723,241
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Alec Ryrie is Professor of Theology and Religion at Durham University.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


1 The Nobleman

2 The Physician

3 The Underworld

4 The Magician

5 The Preacher

Conclusion: Barbarians at the Gates

Appendix Gregory Wisdom's Will


Photographic Acknowledgements


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